Music Of The Hebrews And The Hindus

THE music of the Hebrews presents one of the most interesting subjects in musical history, although it has an unfortunate defect in common with so many kindred subjects, namely, that the most learned dissertation must invariably end with a question mark. When we read in Josephus that Solomon had 200,000 singers, 40,000 harpers, 40,000 sistrum players, and 200,000 trumpeters, we simply do not believe it. Then too there is lack of unanimity in the matter of the essential facts. One authority, describing the machol, says it is a stringed instrument resembling a modem viola; another describes it as a wind instrument somewhat like a bagpipe; still another says it is a metal ring with a bell attachment like an Egyptian sistrum; and finally an equally respected authority daims that the machol was not an instrument at all, but a dance. Similarly the maanim has been de-scribed as a trumpet, a kind of rattle box with metal clappers, and we even have a full account in which it figures as a violin.

The temple songs which we know have evidently been much changed by surrounding influences, just as in modern synagogues the architecture has not held fast to ancient Hebrew models but has been greatly influenced by different countries and peoples. David may be considered the founder of Hebrew music, and his reign has been well called an “idyllic episode in the otherwise rather grim history of Israel.”

Of the instruments named in the Scriptures, that called the harp in our English translation was probably the kinnor, a kind of lyre played by means of a plectrum, which was a small piece of metal, wood, or bone. The psaltery or nebel (which was of course derived from the Egyptian nabla, just as the kinnor probably was in some mysterious manner derived from the Chinese kin) was a kind of dulcimer or zither, an oblong box with strings which were struck by small hammers. The timbrel corresponds to our modern tambourine. The schofar and keren were horns. The former was the well-known ram’s horn which is still blown on the occasion of the Jewish New Year.

In the Talmud mention is made of an organ consisting of ten pipes which could give one hundred different sounds, each pipe being able to produce ten tones. This mysterious instrument was called magrepha, and although but one Levite (the Levites were the professional musicians among the Hebrews) was required to play it, and although it was only about three feet in length, its sound was so tremendous that it could be heard ten miles away. Hieronymus speaks of having heard it on the Mount of Olives when it was played in the Temple at Jerusalem. To add to the mystery surrounding this instrument, it has been proved by several learned authorities that it was merely a large drum; and, to cap the climax, other equally respected writers have declared that this instrument was simply a large shovel which, after being used for the sacrificial fire in the temple, was thrown to the ground with a great noise, to inform the people that the sacrifice was consummated.

It is reasonably certain that the seemingly incongruous titles to the Psalms were merely given to denote the tune to which they were to be sung, just as in our modern hymns we use the words Canterbury; Old Hundredth, China, etc.

The word selah has never been satisfactorily explained, some readings giving as its meaning “forever,” “hallelujah,” etc., while others say that it means repeat, an inflection of the voice, a modulation to another key, an instrumental interlude, a rest, and so on without end.

Of one thing we may be certain regarding the ancient Hebrews, namely, that their religion brought something into the world that can never again be lost. It fostered idealism, and gave mankind something pure and noble to live for, a religion over which Christianity shed the sunshine of divine mercy and hope. That the change which was to be wrought in life was sharply defined may be seen by comparing the great songs of the different nations. For up to that time a song of praise meant praise of a King. He was the sun that warmed men’s hearts, the being from whom all wisdom came, and to whom men looked for mercy. If we compare the Egyptian hymns with those of the Hebrews, the difference is very striking. On the walls of the great temples of Luxor and the Ramesseum at Thebes, as well as on the wall of the temple of Abydos and in the main ball of the great rock-hewn temple of Abu-Simbel, in Nubia, is carved the “Epic of Pentaur,” the royal Egyptian scribe of Rameses II:

My king, his arms are mighty, his heart is firm. He bends his bow and none can resist him. Mightier than a hundred thousand men he marches forward. His counsel is wise and when he wears the royal crown, Alef, and declares his will, he is the protector of his people. His heart is like a mountain of iron. Such is Bing Rameses.

If we turn to the Hebrew prophets, this is their song:

The mountains melted from before the Lord and before Him went the pestilence; burning coals went forth at His feet. Hell is naked before Him and destruction hath no covering. He hangeth the earth upon nothing and the pillars of heaven tremble and are astonished at His reproof. Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him. For I know that my Redeemer liveth, and at the last day He shall stand upon the earth.

As with the Hebrews, music among the Hindus was closely bound to religion. When, 3000 years before the Christian era, that wonderful, tall, white Aryan race of men descended upon India from the north, its poets already sang of the gods, and the Aryan gods were of a different order from those known to that part of the world; for they were beautiful in shape, and friendly to man, in great contrast to the gods of the Davidians, the pre-Aryan race and stock of the Deccan. These songs formed the Rig-Veda, and are the nucleus from which all Hindu religion and art emanate.

We already know that when the auxiliary speech which we call music was first discovered, or, to use the language of all primitive nations, when it was first bestowed on man by the gods, it retained much of the supernatural potency that its origin would suggest. In India, music was invested with divine power, and certain hymns — especially the prayer or chant of Vashishtha — were, according to the Rig-Veda, all powerful in battle. Such a magic song, or chant, was called a brahma, and he who sang it a Brahmin. Thus the very foundation of Brahminism, from which rose Buddhism in the sixth century B.C., can be traced back to the music of the sacred songs of the Rig-Veda of India. The priestly or Brahmin caste grew therefore from the singers of the Vedic hymns. The Brahmins were not merely the keepers of the sacred books, or Vedas, the philosophy, science, and laws of the ancient Hindus (for that is how the power of the caste developed), but they were also the creators and custodians of its secular literature and art. Two and a half thousand years later Prince Gautama or Buddha died, after a life of self-sacrifice and sanctity. On his death five hundred of his disciples met in a cave near Rajagriha to gather together his sayings, and chanted the lessons of their great master. These songs became the bible of Buddhism, just as the Vedas are the bible of Brahminism, for the Hindu word for a Buddhist council means literally “a singing together.”

Besides the sacred songs of the Brahmins and Buddhists, the Hindus had many others, some of which partook of the occult powers of the hymns, occult powers that were as strongly marked as those of Hebrew music. For while the latter are revealed in the playing of David before Saul, in the influence of music on prophecy, the falling of the walls of Jericho at the sound of the trumpets of Joshua, etc., in India the same supernatural power was ascribed to certain songs. For instance, there were songs that could be sung only by the gods, and one of them, so the legend runs, if sung by a mortal, would envelop the singer in flames. The last instance of the singing of this song was during the reign of Akbar, the great Mogul emperor (about 1575 A.D.). At his command the singer sang it standing up to his neck in the river Djaumna, which, however, did not save him, for, according to the account, the water around him boiled, and he was finally consumed by a flame of fire. Another of Akbar’s singers caused the palace to be wrapped in darkness by means of one of these magic songs, and another averted a famine by causing rain to fall when the country was threatened by drought. Animals were also tamed by means of certain songs, the only relic of which is found in the serpent charmers’ melodies, which, played on a kind of pipe, seem to possess the power of controlling cobras and the other snakes exhibited by the Indian fakirs.

Many years before Gautama’s time, the brahmas or singers of sacred songs of ancient India formed themselves into a caste or priesthood; and the word “Brahma,” from meaning a sacred singer, became the name of the supreme deity; in time, as the nation grew, other gods were taken into the religion. Thus we find in pre-Buddha times the trinity of gods: Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva, with their wives, Sarasvati or learning, Lakshmi or beauty, and Paravati, who was also called Kali, Durga, and Mahadevi, and was practically the goddess of evil. Of these gods Brahma’s consort, Sarasvati, the goddess of speech and learning, brought to earth the art of music, and gave to mankind the Vina.

This instrument is still in use and may be called the national instrument of India. It is composed of a cylindrical pipe, often bamboo, about three and a half feet long, at each end of which is fixed a hollow gourd to increase the tone. It is strung lengthwise with seven metal wires held up by nineteen wooden bridges, just as the violin strings are supported by a bridge. The scale of the instrument proceeds in half tones from The tones are produced by plucking the strings with the fingers (which are covered with a kind of metal thimble), and the instrument is held so that one of the gourds hangs over the left shoulder, just as one would hold a very long-necked banjo.

It is to the Krishna incarnation of Vishnu that the Hindu scale is ascribed. According to the legend, Krishna or Vishnu came to earth and took the form of a shepherd, and the nymphs sang to him in many thousand different keys, of which from twenty-four to thirty-six are known and form the basis of Hindu music. To be sure these keys, being formed by different successions of quarter-tones, are practically inexhaustible, and the i6,000 keys of Krishna are quite practicable. The differences in tone, however, were so very slight that only a few of them have been retained to the present time.

The Hindus get their flute from the god Indra, who, from being originally the all-powerful deity, was relegated by Brahminism to the chief place among the minor gods — from being the god of light and air he came to be the god of music. His retinue consisted of the gandharvas, and apsaras, or celestial musicians and nymphs, who sang magic songs. After the rise and downfall of Buddhism in India the term raga degenerated to a name for a merely improvised chant to which no occult power was ascribed.

The principal characteristics in modern Hindu music are a seemingly instinctive sense of harmony; and al-though the actual chords are absent, the melodic formation of the songs plainly indicates a feeling for modern harmony, and even form. The actual scale resembles our European scale of twelve semitones (twenty-two s’rutis, quarter-tones), but the modal development of these sounds has been extraordinary. Now a “mode” is the manner in which the notes of a scale are arranged. For instance, in our major mode the scale is arranged as follows: tone, tone, semitone, tone, tone, tone, semitone. In India there are at present seventy-two modes in use which are produced by making seventy-two different arrangements of the scale by means of sharps and flats, the only rule being that each degree of the scale must be represented; for instance, one of the modes Dehrdsan-KarabhrErna corresponds to our major scale. Our minor (harmonic) scale figures as Kyraváni. Tánarupi corresponds to the following succession of notes.

It can thus easily be seen how the seventy-two modes are possible and practicable. Observe that the seven degrees of the scale are all represented in these modes, the difference between them being in the placing of half-tones by means of sharps or flats. Not content with the complexity that this modal system brought into their music, the Hindus have increased it still more by inventing a number of formule called ragas (not to be confounded with those rhapsodical songs, the modern descendant of the magic chants, previously mentioned).

In making a Hindu melody (which of course must be in one of the seventy-two modes, just as in English we should say that a melody must be in one of our two modes, either major or minor) one would have to conform to one of the ragas, that is to say, the melodic outline would have to conform to certain rules, both in ascending and descending. These rules consist of omitting notes of the modes, in one manner when the melody ascends, and in another when it descends. Thus, in the raga called Mohànna, in ascending the notes must be arranged in the following order: 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 8; in descending it is 8, 7, 5, 4, 2, 1. Thus if we wished to write a melody in the mode Tânarupi — raga Mohànna — we could never use the fourth, F, or the seventh, B, if our melody ascended; if our melody descended we should have to avoid the sixth, M, and the third, E , b. As one can easily perceive, many strange melodic effects are produced by these means. For instance, in the raga Mohànna, in which the fourth and seventh degrees of the scale are avoided in ascending, if it were employed in the mode Dehrasin-Karabhârna, which corresponds to our own major scale, it would have a pronounced Scotch tinge so long as the melody ascended; but let it descend and the Scotch element is deserted for a decided North American Indian, notably Sioux tinge. The Hindus are an imaginative race, and invest all these ragas and modes with mysterious attributes, such as anger, love, fear, and so on. They were even personified as supernatural beings; each had his or her special name and history. It was proper to use some of them only at midday, some in the morning, and some at night. If the mode or raga is changed during a piece, it is expressed in words, by saying, for instance, that “Mohànna” (the new ” raga”) is here introduced to the family of Tanarupi. The melodies formed from these modes and ragas are divided into four classes, Rektah, Teranah, Tuppah, and Ragni. The Rekiah is in character light and flowing. It falls naturally into regular periods, and resembles the Teranah, with the exception that the latter is only sung by men. The character of the Tuppah is not very clear, but the Ragni is a direct descendant of the old magic songs and incantations; in character it is rhapsodical and spasmodic.